Riley wants county, state to study Ashley bridge bike lane

Traffic flows over the T. Allen Legare Bridge onto the Charleston peninsula Thursday evening. Planners are looking at the southernmost lane (at left) as a possible bicycle lane.

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the city will ask the county and state to study converting the southernmost lane on the Ashley River drawbridges to a bike and pedestrian lane.

"It's something we are going to look at," he said. "I think that is an option that should be explored."

Riley's remarks came after The Post and Courier reported that the city's previous plan to build a cantilevered bike lane off the newer of the two drawbridges was not feasible for engineering reasons.

That conclusion came after Charleston County spent $430,000 studying the issue.

The study included design alternatives, an environmental overview and a comprehensive structural and mechanical study, county spokeswoman Jennie Davis Flinn said.

"We can't stress enough the extensiveness of what the study covered," she said. "As one example, engineers had the time-consuming and demanding task of physically climbing under the bridge to count

(and) weigh individual weights in order to calculate load capacity for the structure."

County Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said had the county known it wasn't going to work, it wouldn't have spent the money.

"There's always concern when you spend taxpayers' dollars on something you hope will work that doesn't work," he said. "Hindsight is always 20-20."

The money came from the county's half-cent Transportation Sales Tax and was spent on contracts with Atlantic South Consultants and HDR Inc.

County Councilwoman Colleen Condon said the county needed to explore the cantilever idea because a few years ago, the state Department of Transportation had shot down the idea of converting a traffic lane on the Northbridge, which connects Cosgrove Avenue with Sam Rittenberg Boulevard, for bike and pedestrian use.

"I think we had an obligation to see if there was another way to do it without taking away a lane," she said.

But now that the only other option is replacing the entire bridge -- a project that could take 20 years or more to complete -- Condon said it makes sense to try to convert a lane of traffic on the Ashley River bridge for bike and pedestrian use.

There currently are four lanes of traffic on the northbound T. Allen Legare Bridge that carries U.S. Highway 17 from West Ashley to downtown, but there are only three lanes of southbound traffic on the older World War I Memorial Bridge.

Converting the southernmost lane of the Legare bridge would create three lanes of traffic in each direction.

Pryor said it's premature to say whether the county will be able to help study repurposing one of the Legare bridge's traffic lanes.

"All is not lost. All is not dead," he said. "We'll have to take a second look at it and see what can be salvaged from it."

Tom Bradford of Charleston Moves said it's important for others -- not just local cycling advocates -- to show support for the mayor's position.

"It's in the best interest of everybody," he said. "There are a growing number of young families attracted to Charleston ... and these people are looking desperately for this kind of connectivity so they're not forced to always be behind the wheel of a car to get places."

Charleston City Councilman Mike Seekings said he favors the plan to reclaim a lane, though the ideal solution would be to build a new bridge designed specifically for cars, bikes and pedestrians to share. "Reclaiming that lane is great, but it wasn't built originally to be a bike lane. It's going to have some issues," he said. "I just hope we do something expeditiously."

Condon said the bike-pedestrian link from West Ashley to downtown will be a main topic at a West Ashley Transportation forum planned for March 28.

Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.